I played the original SoulCalibur II until my fingers bled. That's not an exaggeration; I'm fairly sure I still have faint calluses on my left thumb from the repeated blisters I used to get from furious directional thrashing. It was - is - a truly excellent game, and one of the best 3D fighters of its time. Of any time, even.
My friends and I would play it for hours at a time, and fights were typically so fast and furious that we had to increase our health to 200% just to make each turn at the controller last that little bit longer. Its systems are so ingrained in my memory that I downloaded this remake, picked up a controller, and could more or less immediately perform moves flawlessly even after a decade's hiatus.
Everything that made the original game so good is still here; memorable characters, satisfying mechanics, a compulsive single player Weapons Master mode, the cheap (and always hilarious) ring-outs. There are some new additions to the roster too; previously platform exclusive characters Spawn and Heihachi are now unlocked across both the Xbox 360 and PS3.
But whilst content from the original game still shines ten years on, the new and updated features are left sorely wanting. SoulCalibur II's HD visual upgrade is hardly mind-blowing; edges and textures have been cleaned up to bring it up to the bare minimum standard for high definition, but there's no way you'll ever forget this is a spit-polish of a very old game.
That's no big deal, however - you wouldn't be playing this if all you were here for were top of the range graphics. What isn't as easy to excuse is the inexplicably poor implementation of the online component. You can tell by the simple fact that it's right there in the game's title that online play is being touted as a major selling point for the remake, but it's laughably minimal. To start with, there are only two modes to choose from - ranked and player matches. Not long after the game's launch, I tried to initiate matches in both modes, and the game repeatedly failed to find me anyone to fight. The few times I did manage to connect, I discovered there were no lobbies and no spectator option - the game just pairs you up with an opponent via a loading screen, and tosses you back out to the main menu as soon as the fight's over. There is no way to queue up multiple battles, and to top it all off, the netcode is severely lacking. For a game that requires nothing less than precise timing in order to perform guard breaks and parries, input lag just isn't acceptable.
In all honesty, online play isn't exactly true to this game's legacy anyway. Memories of passing two controllers around a group of friends, with winners staying on and losers receiving the ribbing they richly deserved, is as fundamental to the SoulCalibur II experience as coming up against that one 'friend' who always insisted on playing as Raphael. But, since online play is a large part of what you're paying for in this package, it'd be nice to see it actually working from time to time. If you're planning on playing this mainly via local multiplayer and don't mind paying a premium for the privilege, you'll have a hell of a time, but if the promise of online play is a deal-breaker for you, you're best off going elsewhere. SoulCalibur II deserved so much more than this - time to do some soul-searching of your own, Namco.
Despite this being one of the best 3D fighters of a generation, it's hard to recommend SoulCalibur II HD Online due to a silly price tag and some seriously poor online multiplayer implementation. The SoulCalibur name deserves more than this.
- Combat is as good as it always was
- Controls translate well from previous platforms
- Plenty of single player content
- Dat nostalgia
- Online multiplayer barely functional
- Some characters need to be unlocked for online play
- £15.99 is a bit steep